Mt. Baldy parent worried for students' safety

Mona Mattei
By Mona Mattei
December 20th, 2009

Just days after parents in the Mt. Baldy area got the School District #51 to agree to reconsider a bus route change the district made in November, 7-year-old Jordan Vernie was left alone in Bridesville when he was dropped off by the school bus at his new stop. Jordan’s mom, Kristi Vernie whose family lives on the road to Mt. Baldy, said that Jordan mistakenly boarded the bus when she had arranged to meet him at school to take in the school’s annual Christmas recital, so no one was in Bridesville to meet him when he exited the bus. Michael Strukoff, superintendent of schools, said that the schools have protocols in place to handle these types of situations and that they are working.

“In the mayhem of the Christmas concert he got on the bus, because that’s normal routine,” said Vernie. “So I wasn’t in Bridesville to pick him up. When he got off the bus, he was just left there. Thankfully, there was another neighbour from up the road who took him home.”

Parents rely on the bus driver to ensure that the children are not left alone. Generally, that means that the driver sees the children connect with their parents before he leaves the stop.

“There are quite a few kids that get off in Bridesville. I have talked to the bus driver since it happened, and there’s so many kids getting on and off stops that he can’t keep track of them anymore,” said Vernie. “We were told by Jeanette (Hanlon, secretary – treasurer for the school district) that the children would never be left unattended at a bus stop.”

Strukoff said that the bus drivers’ protocol is to ensure that children are picked up before leaving the stop. If no one arrives, the child should get back on the bus and the driver would then call into the school via radio to have the school try to connect with the parents and make arrangements for pick up.

“In that situation the bus driver did see the child approaching a car. So he thought that we were covered off. The driver did talk to the parent, and we’re trying to sort it out. More importantly we want to sure we have a process in place for when there are spare bus drivers on the bus. The worse case scenario is if we can’t make that connection (with the parents) the child would be returned to the school where he would be in a safe, warm place under supervision,” said Strukoff.

Vernie said that she never received a call on that day because the driver did not know Jordan was unattended.

The bus stop for the Mt. Baldy / Alden road residents was moved to Bridesville after the board of trustees decided that the route the bus was following up to Alden road and back was deemed unsafe. Since the decision in November the bus stop for the children has been moved three times. The current stop is in Bridesville, miles from the children’s homes.

The solution, said Vernie, is to reinstate the bus stops on Alden road and Baldy Mountain road.

“The children have been so stressed, because everyday it’s a question of what stop are we going to,” said Vernie. “Put the bus stops back. Then you’re spreading the kids back out and they’re closer to home. Bridesville is 10 kilometres from our house. It’s not like he’s just up the road.”

Strukoff explained that this is not a situation unique to the Mt. Baldy run, and that changing the route will not necessarily resolve the problem.

“In a number of situations parents still drive to pick up the child (from a stop). We’ve had situations where a parent has been delayed or something has come up and there’s nobody to pick the child up and it’s still a fair ways to the child’s home,” said Strukoff. “It’s an ongoing challenge in some of our remote bus runs. You can’t just drop them off at Mt. Baldy either.”

Strukoff maintained that the schools have a system in place to ensure the children’s safety and that those systems have not failed.

“We have other challenges where children misunderstand arrangements. This is not an unusual situation where we have kids that aren’t in the right place or on the right bus, and we have safety nets in place to locate children,” said Strukoff. “This kind of thing comes up, you’d be surprised at how frequently, and our systems are working to pick this up.”

Categories: General